Wicker Calls on Navy to Reject ‘Atheist’ Chaplain Application

Seapower Chairman Joined by 22 Senators in Saying Approval Would Be ‘Grave Mistake’

March 13, 2018

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today called on the Navy to deny an application for a “secular humanist” to serve in the Chaplain Corps. Twenty-two Senators joined Wicker in sending a letter to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Adm. John Richardson saying, “the Chaplain Corps serves religious needs, not philosophical preferences.”

“Our military chaplains serve under the motto ‘for God and country,’” Wicker said. “It is troubling that the Navy could allow a self-avowed atheist to serve in the Chaplain Corps. I am hopeful that the Navy leadership will reject this application and preserve the distinct religious role that our chaplains carry out.”

Below is the full text of the letter:

The Chaplain Corps is an institution older than our nation, first created in 1775 by General George Washington to serve the religious needs of his troops.  Today, the Chaplain Corps faithfully serves all members of our armed forces without regard to religious preference or belief.  Therefore, we are concerned that the Navy may expand the Chaplain Corps beyond its clear purpose of protecting and facilitating the constitutional right of service members to the free exercise of religion.  It is our understanding that the Navy Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory Group (CARE AG) has recommended accepting an applicant to serve in the Corps as a secular-humanist Chaplain. 

The Navy’s approval would constitute a grave mistake.  Approving a secular-humanist Chaplain is inconsistent with the Constitution and the Department of Defense’s (DOD) own guidelines.  As part of DOD, the Navy has a constitutional obligation under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment to ensure that service members have access to services that meet their religious needs.  The Chaplain Corps exists to fulfill this duty. The Supreme Court has ruled that non-religious beliefs may not rely on the Religion Clauses for protection.  Furthermore, DOD’s guidelines reinforce the uniquely religious purpose of the Chaplain Corps.

The Navy has sufficient authority to create programs for humanist or atheist service members.  The Chaplain Corp is not the appropriate place.  The Chaplain Corps serves religious needs, not philosophical preferences.  Approving a secular-humanist Chaplain would open the door to other applicants representing other philosophical worldviews.  Over time, this situation would erode the distinct religious function of the Chaplain Corps. 

We hope that you will act to preserve the integrity of the Chaplain Corps and its long-standing constitutional role.  The Navy should reject the application for a secular-humanist Chaplain.